Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

In 2010, Japanese developer Level-5, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, developed Ni no Kuni (with the roughly-translated title The Another World and the subtitle The Jet-Black Mage) for the Nintendo DS, with this particular release receiving decent reception. The following year, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli coproduced an enhanced version of the game for the PlayStation 3 with the Japanese subtitle The Queen of White Sacred Ash, which Namco-Bandai localized and published in North America as Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, providing a solid JRPG experience.

The heart of most role-playing games is their game mechanics, and luckily, Wrath of the White Witch does fairly well in this area. Enemies are visible wandering the game’s overworld, fields, and dungeons, with the game seeming to adopt an EarthBound-esque formula where enemies, upon noticing Oliver, charge him when his levels are low and flee when his levels are high. It is possible to obtain a preemptive strike against foes by approaching them from behind, often a daunting task since foes can take notice of Oliver even when facing away from him.

Outside battle, players can outfit the three active characters with three familiars each, with familiars basically being monsters that the player can tame in battle with Esther’s musical skills. While it can be a task to determine which of the many monsters players can capture to equip to the main characters, each of them has three different “favorite” familiar species that can greatly narrow the player’s selections. Each familiar has its own skill set whose capacity many occasionally increase when they level, with each monster typically having more skills than skill slots.

Once a battle begins, the player can control one of the three active characters or one of their familiars at a time on the battlefield, which each monster having stamina that determines how long they can remain on the field until the player needs to switch to the controlling character or another familiar; stamina gradually restores when a familiar isn’t active. Familiars are essentially extensions of their owners, since a monster taking a hit from the enemy will deplete its master’s hit points, and using one of its skills will deplete their character’s magic points. Whether the player is controlling a character or one of their familiars, they can move them around with the left analog stick, and, if they so desire, players can choose to control an ally other than Oliver or one of his familiars.

Characters and their familiars each have a number of commands from which to choose, such as attacking with an equipped weapon (with characters and their monsters having separate equipment slots), defending to reduce damage, or using an MP-consuming skill. Battles generally flow at a fluid pace, although there are some things that hamper the aforementioned flow such as the use of certain attacks brings all the action in a fight to a stop. Winning a fight nets all participants, even characters that died during the fight, experience points for occasional level ups. Monsters may also gain the opportunity to evolve into more powerful forms with the help of special items, in which case their levels reset to one while they keep all their previous skills.

The game mechanics work well for the most part, although there are some annoyances such as the ability of monsters to kill the player’s characters before healing magic executes, not to mention the general uselessness of item synthesis, given the poor interface for doing so. There are many instances, moreover, where bosses are actually easier than normal enemies, although in the case of death, the player can continue from the last HP/MP-recovering save point at a cost of a tenth of the player’s gold, a nice break from other harsh death punishments, for instance, in the Dragon Quest series, which take away half the player’s money if they die, while leaving the hero’s allies dead. In spite of its flaws, the battle system is fairly enjoyable, luckily backing up a generally solid experience.

Ni no Kuni’s control scheme is largely adequate, with an easy menu system, shopping, and dungeon navigation, with automaps in the latter helping greatly, although there are some annoyances with referencing the Wizard’s Handbook, given the need to go through several screens to view pertinent information, managing familiars not in the player’s party, and with synthesis, since most recipes are in the aforementioned Handbook. Some puzzles are also slightly annoying, but otherwise, the game interfaces well with the player even if this aspect is perhaps the weakest part of the game.

The narrative generally flows well, with an endearing cast and some occasional twists throughout the game. The translation is also polished, although the localization team could have actually come up with an English main title (Another World likely being out of the question due to a conflict with another game of the same name, although something like The Otherworld would have sufficed) for a game devoid of Japanese characters, but otherwise, a nice story and translation.

Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi provides the soundtrack, which is superb for the most part, what with many nice tracks such as a superb overworld theme, although there are occasional silent parts during cutscenes and more rarely during town and dungeon exploration. The English voicework is top-notch, moreover, with players able to switch to the Japanese voices if they desire. Overall, a great-sounding game.

As with most of their games, Level-5 utilizes beautiful cel-shaded character models and superbly-designed environments, with the occasional Studio Ghibli-animated cutscene. There are some minor jaggies, but these are a minor imperfection in otherwise gorgeous visuals.

Finally, the game isn’t terribly lengthy, with a straightforward playthrough taking around thirty hours, though post-game content and things such as obtaining every Trophy can naturally bolster playing time. Ultimately, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a solid RPG that hits most of the right notes and doesn’t leave too much room for improvement, what with its great game mechanics, narrative, sound, and visuals. It does have some minor issues concerning interaction, although it nonetheless stands as one of the PlayStation 3’s best role-playing games, and a contender for Game of the Year.

The Good:
+Solid gameplay mechanisms with plenty Familiars to use.
+Great story and translation.
+Nice music, voice acting and graphics.
+Plenty lasting appeal with lots of Trophies to obtain.

The Bad:
-Some interface issues.
-A few parts without music.
-The DS version won’t be localized.
-The game’s title could have been in English.

The Bottom Line:
A solid JRPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 10/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 25-40 Hours

Overall: 9/10

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